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Closer look at defensive wizardry

9/13/2010

Sunday’s season-opening victory was a shining example of a creative defensive game-plan being executed to near perfection through the decisive stretch of the contest. It’s a credit to both coaches and players to pull it off.

The first 21 defensive plays told the story.

By that point, the often-questioned Patriots defense had taken the action to the Bengals in building a 24-0 lead, with linebacker Gary Guyton’s 59-yard interception return for a touchdown contributing to the big margin.

As noted by Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, the Patriots did a good disguising their plan, which led to some confusion for the Cincinnati offense.

Here is what the Patriots threw at Palmer:

First drive

The Patriots open the game in a 4-2-5 nickel defense against a three-receiver set. The twist is that the four defensive linemen are all “bigs” -- Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Vince Wilfork and Ron Brace -- which kept the defense sturdy enough against the run. The Patriots also play their 3-4 alignment against base offensive personnel, before showing a 4-1-6 dime package with three “bigs” and pass rusher Tully Banta-Cain up front.

Second drive

All 3-4 alignment.

Third drive

All 3-4 alignment, with Ron Brace rotating in at left defensive end for Gerard Warren.

Fourth drive

The Patriots are in a 3-4 alignment before showing a new 3-2-6 rush-based dime package with Myron Pryor, Tully Banta-Cain and Jermaine Cunningham on the line.

Fifth drive

The Patriots open in the 4-1-6 dime package with three “bigs” and Banta-Cain up front, while mixing in the 3-2-6 dime for one play, before introducing a new-look 4-2-5 nickel package that is more rush-based with Jermaine Cunningham and Tully Banta-Cain joining Mike Wright and Vince Wilfork on the line.

FINAL ANALYSIS: The overall plan highlights how the coaching staff tapped into the versatility of the players on the roster, and the various options that are part of the team’s system. It was unique to see the Patriots' big defensive linemen such a part of sub packages. The results also showed how the players were adaptable on the fly, as in 21 defensive snaps there were five different defensive packages. When the Patriots scheme like this, and execute like they did on the field, the defense is entertaining to watch.